Ithaca City of Asylum

“Crossing the Line” available for streaming

Crossing the Line,” our Banned Books Week presentation featuring cartoonists Pedro X. Molina and Rob Rogers, was a smash success, with more than 300 people watching from all over the world. Pedro and Rob’s stories were moving, informative, and entertaining, and their cartoons were extraordinary.

Don’t worry if you missed it — you can watch the program here. It’s one hour and sixteen minutes long and well worth the time!

New book showcases work of persecuted Greek musician

ICOA board member Gail Holst-Warhaft has translated The House with the Scorpions: Selected Poems and Song-Lyrics of Mikis Theodorakis, featuring the work of one of modern Greece’s most important musical figures. “I can’t think of anyone who has suffered more for his writings and music than Theodorakis,” Holst-Warhaft says.

The book is available at Buffalo Street Books. The remainder of this post is from the book’s publisher, Fomite.

In Greece, Mikis Theodorakis is a national icon. He is the country’s most famous composer, and a figure who has spent his life struggling against injustice and oppression in his own country and elsewhere. He has been jailed and tortured for his beliefs, continuing to produce a stream of music and poetry despite his suffering. It is time that his own poetry was recognized as an important element in his creative life.  In an age where Bob Dylan can win a Nobel Prize, and Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are treasured as poems, it is also time to recognize the importance of the song-lyric as a literary form.

Gail Holst-Warhaft, who has spent many years working with the composer as a musician, biographer and translator, has translated all of the composer’s lyrics and combined them with Theodorakis’s virtually unknown poems. Together, they reveal a man whose passion for poetry was the wellspring of his creativity. The book presents Theodorakis’s poems and lyrics in Greek and English. This makes it clear that the translations do not obey the rhyme-scheme of the originals but try to maintain rhythmic patterns that are satisfying to the English ear. This book is not only a collection of Theodorakis’s poetry, but the record of an extraordinary life.

About the author and translator

When someone asked Mikis Theodorakis where he got his inspiration for his music, he answered: “It’s very simple. I never thought of my music as anything but a way to clothe Greek poetry.”  Theodorakis is known to the world as a composer. To the English-speaking world, unfortunately, he is known principally for his film scores, particularly the score of Zorba the Greek, and a few of his popular songs. To the Greeks, Theodorakis is the man who combined the greatest poetry of their country with his own prodigious melodic gifts to create a river of unforgettable songs. Few think of him as a poet, and yet he wrote fine poems, some of which became the lyrics of his songs.

Gail Holst-Warhaft was born in Australia. Besides being a poet she has been a journalist, broadcaster, prose writer, academic, musician, and translator. In the 1970’s, while researching a book on Greek music, Holst-Warhaft performed as a keyboard-player with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis. She has published translations of Aeschylus, and of a number of modern Greek poets and prose-writers. Her poems and translations of Greek poetry have appeared in journals in the US, the U.K., Australia, and Greece. Her most recent book is Lucky Country (Fomite, 2018).

For interviews and appearances, contact Gail Holst-Warhaft at

Pedro & Jonathan on human rights show

ICOA artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina and ICOA board chair Jonathan Miller were interviewed on WRFI‘s Human Rights Show on Friday, September 18. Pedro talked about the political situation in Nicaragua and the circumstances surrounding his emergency departure in December 2018 during a crackdown on independent media. Jonathan talked about ICOA’s mission and work and the October 2 “Crossing the Line” event featuring Pedro and cartoonist Rob Rogers.

You can hear the hour-long interview here. WRFI is community radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen.

The Ithaca Times has also featured Pedro and Jonathan in an article. You can read it here.

“Crossing the Line” Celebrates Cartooning and Risk

Online event Friday, October 2, 7 p.m. 

Please join Ithaca City of Asylum (ICOA) and City of Asylum Pittsburgh for “Crossing the Line,” a virtual (and highly visual) conversation about cartooning, free expression, censorship, and personal risk.

The free online event will take place on Friday, October 2, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Featured guests are internationally acclaimed political cartoonists Pedro X. Molina of Nicaragua and Rob Rogers of Pittsburgh.

Both artists have paid a steep price for their work. Molina (self-portrait above) was forced to flee Nicaragua with his family in December 2018 after his main media outlet, Confidencial, was taken over by government forces during a crackdown on dissent. He won the 2018 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International and is now ICOA’s artist-in-residence and a Visiting International Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College.

Rogers, winner of several national cartooning awards and a two-time Pulitzer finalist, was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2018 for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. They will discuss their experiences and compare cartoons before taking audience questions.

“Crossing the Line” takes place during Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read. It is cosponsored by the International Cities of Refuge NetworkPEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, City of Asylum Detroit, and Group 73 of Amnesty International.

Use the button above or click here to preregister now and receive reminders (recommended!) or sign in on the evening of the show. The event will be recorded and available for streaming afterward at the same URL.

“Crossing the Line” is made possible by funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County. Additional support comes from the Freedom to Read Foundation, affiliated with the American Library Association

Pedro tells his story in Pittsburgh magazine

“I think humor is one of the best weapons that we have when we are dealing with oppressors,” ICOA artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina says in a 4,000-word interview in the online magazine Sampsonia Way. “But every time they tighten their control and the violence grows, it gets harder to find something to laugh at.”

In “The Complicated Risk: An Interview with Pedro X. Molina,” writer Nicole Arthur questions Pedro on a wide range of topics, from the disastrous situation in Nicaragua to his childhood and development as an artist and his thoughts on humor, fear, and patriotism.

The “complicated risk” of the title refers to the difficult balance he has had to strike between his creative drive, his sense of duty to his people, and the very real threat of imprisonment or worse.

“I could have stayed in Nicaragua and at some point they would have taken me and put me in jail and I would no longer be able to create,” he tells Arthur. “I was not willing to accept this, so to preserve my creative power, I had to leave. This is both good and painful.” 

The writer, Nicole Arthur, is the Content, Communications, and Spiritual Formation Manager at Chesterton House, a Christian living and learning community at Cornell. A native of Pittsburgh, she is also a staff writer for Sampsonia Way.

Sampsonia Way is the in-house magazine of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. Like ICOA, City of Asylum is a member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN). ICOA and City of Asylum will sponsor a virtual event featuring Pedro and Pittsburgh-based editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers on Friday, October 2, at 7 p.m. More details will follow.

Read the interview here.

Update: Hanging on but could use help!

Illustration by Pedro X. Molina

We send our warmest greetings in this strangest of summers, a season of uncertainty and turmoil, awakening and hope. We wanted to catch you up on what we’ve been up to and invite you to lend a hand.

A busy time for ICOA

As you may know, ours is a two-part mission: to provide refuge in Ithaca to persecuted writers and artists and to speak up about freedom of expression and human rights. Our artist-in-residence, Pedro X. Molina, has been at the center of both those efforts.

Since arriving from Nicaragua in December 2018, Pedro has become an important voice in our community. In addition to teaching an Honors course at IC and guest lecturing in other classes, he has given talks and interviews, sat on panels, curated exhibitions, and participated in numerous public activities and events. This summer he will be working with local children through the Village at Ithaca.

All this while sending six cartoons a week to the Nicaraguan news outlet Confidencial, publishing two books of his work, and contributing to CounterpointPolitico, and other national and international publications.

In the last year, Pedro has spoken (or been invited to speak) in Amsterdam, Austin, Berlin, Chapel Hill, Columbus, Costa Rica, Lisbon, Miami, New York City, Paris, Strasbourg, and Toronto. Other achievements include a World Press Cartoon prize, Columbia Journalism School’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on the Americas, and an Excellence in Journalism Award from the Inter American Press Association. We are very lucky to have him here.

Despite all this, these have been hard times for the Molinas, who have been largely confined to their apartment and cut off from friends and family as the coronavirus ravages their home country.

What’s next

It is looking increasingly unlikely that Nicaragua will be safe enough to return to when Pedro’s term with ICOA is officially over next May, so we have been working with him and his family on a plan for the future. Our capacity to help is diminished by the fact that we have lost important funding from Cornell. We have also begun our search for a new resident, but we’re unsure about what we’ll be able to do given our limited resources. This is troubling, as the risk for outspoken writers and artists is greater than ever.

To that end, we have been working to strengthen the network of cities of asylum around the U.S. and the world, partnering with City of Asylum in Pittsburgh on programming (see below) and sharing our experiences with groups in New York, Detroit, Arkansas, and elsewhere. We have also been monitoring cases of harassment and imprisonment of writers, journalists, and artists through ICORNPEN, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and other organizations. 

How you can help

Please consider making a donation to Ithaca City of Asylum today. ICOA is an all-volunteer project of the Center for Transformative Action, a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are tax deductible. Donating is easy online via GiveGab. You can also mail a check to ICOA, c/o CTA, 119 Anabel Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. Please make your check out to the Center for Transformative Action and write ICOA on the memo line. We will send donors who give $500 or more a copy of Forbidden Voices, a handsome book that features our former writer-in-residence Sonali Samarasinghe

Save the date!

Please plan to join us on Friday, October 2, 7 p.m. for “Crossing the Line,” our first-ever virtual Voices of Freedom celebration to mark Banned Books Week. We are teaming up with City of Asylum in Pittsburgh to bring you an illustrated conversation between Pedro Molina and Rob Rogers, an internationally acclaimed editorial cartoonist who was fired by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2018 for his cartoons critical of Donald Trump. Both Pedro and Rob have paid a stiff price for publicly calling out their countries’ political leadership. It should be a mind-opening (and even humorous!) evening. More details later this summer. Thanks to the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County for their support for this event. 
Shoot us an email if you have any thoughts or questions. You can also follow us on Facebook and bookmark our website. And feel free to forward this message to anyone you think may be interested!
P.S. Our thoughts are with the nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people who have had to survive the Covid-19 pandemic in places other than home. More than 30 million of those are refugees and asylum seekers. We’re determined not to forget them as we deal with our own challenges.

Cartoons from the coronavirus crisis

Like most of us during this pandemic, artist-in-residence Pedro X. Molina has been homebound, but he has remained active, remotely teaching his Ithaca College honors course on political cartooning while continuing to publish images for outlets in Nicaragua and elsewhere. He shared a few of those with us.




Yi Ping pens chapter on Chinese peace laureate

Leedom-Ackerman_jkt.inddPoet and editor Yi Ping, ICOA’s first writer-in-residence, has contributed to a book celebrating the life and work of Liu Xiaobo, the late Chinese activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate was published on April 1 by Potomac Books. Yi Ping’s chapter is titled “Liu Xiaobo, Who Has Ascended the Altar.” 

You can order a copy at Buffalo Street Books.

In a note announcing the publication, senior editor Joanne Leedom-Ackerman wrote:

Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2010, spent his adult life writing and working for a more democratic and transparent China. These 75+ essays and poems, written by those who knew and worked with Xiaobo during his life, reveal the portrait of a man of courage, a writer of more than 1,000 essays and 18 books himself, a man who took on the Chinese government with ideas and nonviolent action and ultimately paid with his life. He has justifiably been called the Nelson Mandela or the Vaclav Havel of China.

A native of China, Yi Ping participated in the Students’ Democracy Movement as a young man. Banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, he was permanently banned from working in education and forbidden to publish his work. He fled China in 1991, living in Poland before moving to the United States. He was ICOA writer-in-residence from 2001 to 2003. He and his wife Lin Zhou have lived in Ithaca ever since. 


Solidarity in times of crisis


We send you greetings in this time of collective isolation. We hope that you are healthy, safe, and supported by family and friends.

Like many of you, we have been asking ourselves what we can do to pitch in, both as individuals and as a group. ICOA’s primary responsibility is to our writer-in-residence, Pedro X. Molina, and his family. Pedro has been grounded but not slowed, as he remains active on Twitter, sends daily cartoons to Nicaragua (many criticizing his country’s COVID-19 response), and remotely instructs his Ithaca College students from the apartment he shares with his wife and two children. Pedro created the image at the top of this post, thinking of the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus. But largely thanks to your support, the Molinas’ situation, for now, is stable.

And so we have decided to skip our spring appeal this year and urge you, our loyal donors, to join us in giving as generously as you can to organizations that serve the most vulnerable members of our community.

Some local efforts you might consider:

Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund
United Way of Tompkins County COVID-19 Relief Funding
Ithaca Welcomes Refugees
Center for Transformative Action
Loaves and Fishes

Please also consider patronizing local businesses that have shifted to online sales, delivery (e.g., here or here), gift cardsvirtual tip jars, and other ways of staying afloat. Our hairdressers, landscapers, house cleaners, music teachers, and other service providers (not to mention freelance artists and writers) will also be grateful for our support through this crisis.

You may also want to consider supporting groups that, like ICOA, protect writers, journalists, artists, and other vitally important voices in places where governments may be using the pandemic to suppress human rights and free expression. Some examples are PEN America, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Cities of Refuge NetworkAmnesty InternationalHuman Rights WatchInternational Human Rights Art Festival, and Artists At Risk Connection.

In gratitude and solidarity,

The ICOA board

Pedro’s IC talk is canceled

Pedro at Cornell

Pedro X. Molina speaks to students, faculty, and community members at Cornell’s Latin American Studies Program seminar on March 9, 2020.

A public conversation between Pedro X. Molina, ICOA’s current artist-in-residence, and Tyrell Stewart-Harris, assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College, planned for March 25 at IC, has been canceled, along with the rest of the 2020 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. The college has canceled or postponed all major events in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Pedro’s March 9 talk at Cornell drew an estimated 45 people. He spoke about the political crisis in Nicaragua and showed slides of his own work along with that of other artists resisting the authoritarian regime of President Daniel Ortega.